March 4, 2008


A few hours later, when Michael tapped against the window at the back of her cottage, Emily Bellecastle woke up immediately, and with a smile. Her clock said that it was 6:02 a.m., but she realized that, even without knowing it, she had been waiting for Michael to come to her window one night soon.

They had talked on the phone a few times since their bike ride Thursday night, once for almost half an hour. It was really nice, especially after not being around The Gang for almost a month, even if it felt odd to become friends only after being around each other daily for two years. Last night, Michael had told her that she would see him on Sunday, and now as she crawled out of bed she knew that he’d come across town to repay her late night visit.

She had fallen asleep without clearing off her bed, and her open New Yorker now had a sunburst crease in the middle where she’d rolled over on it during the five hours she’d been sleeping. She looked around her room for something dumb she could put on before she went to the window, something like a weird hat or a mask, but nothing jumped out at her and now Michael was tapping again. She thought about stripping off her shirt and pulling back the curtains with just her boxers on, with one arm covering her breasts and a goofy bewildered look on her face. Eh, maybe that wasn’t such a great idea.

Instead, she just put on a broad sweet smile…it was good to see Michael, and cute that he was visiting her so soon (even if he was sort of being a copycat about it.) Maybe they’d walk down to * and get coffee with the dogwalkers. She pulled back on the curtains, ready to wave at him and hold up a finger, meaning she’d be out as soon as she got dressed.

Standing outside her window in the morning pre-dawn light was an unshaven middle-aged man with messy dirty hair. The man was bent over, making a tunnel out of his hands as he peered into her room.

Emily jumped back with a scream, then clamped a hand over her mouth. In a panic, she began to do three things at once, succeeding at none of them: put on her dressing gown, find her cell phone, look for some kind of weapon. The man began tapping on her window again, this time more urgently.

Even though the cabin was nestled in the courtyard of the larger house, Emily’s father had installed panic buttons throughout the cottage, just in case someone was able to sneak in the gate and past the guard dog. The buttons turned on all the lights in Franz’s quarters and sounded an alarm. Emily hit the buttons by accident so often that it became a family joke so why couldn’t she remember where any of them were right now???

The man began rapping on the glass with his knuckle, now. With her heart still beating in her throat, Emily was able to pull her gown on, and find her phone wadded up in her sheet, and she remembered the impressively large letter opener one of her uncles had given her a few years ago. There was a panic button under her nightstand and beside her desk.

But before she could call anyone or hit one of the buttons or brandish the letter opener, she realized that if she trimmed and combed his hair, and shaved the thick stubble away, and changed him out of his dirty undershirt, the man knocking on her window was her boyfriend’s father. It was Lucas Budd.

Cautiously, she pulled open the curtain again. Mr. Budd was tapping on the window while looking back at the main estate. There were no lights on in the house, though, and he gave her a thumb’s up, like I think we got away with it. He looked like he was crazy, but he didn’t look crazed. He apparently hadn’t groomed himself since his arrest, but underneath his mad hermit look he appeared unchanged.

Mr. Budd waved her to come outside and join him, but Emily quickly shook her head. She closed her dressing gown—a Christmas present from Lillian—and watched him. He was wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and a pair of black dress shoes, no socks.

Again, he motioned for her to come outside, this time more urgently. He kept looking back at the house, then past the cottage to the street beyond.

“No way,” Emily mouthed as she shook her head. She saw Gormenghast sitting at attention just off to the left, his face a picture of idiotic curiosity as he watched the proceedings between his mistress and the trespasser. His head swung back and forth with each volley, like at a tennis match. He seemed to be so interested in what was going on that he clearly had no intentions of disrupting the scene by barking or attacking the intruder.

Lucas Budd stepped away from the window for a second and peered around the corner of the cottage, then reappeared. He pointed quickly at his left wrist, telling her he didn’t have much time.

“Call me,” Emily whispered, holding her pinky and her thumb up to her face.

Mr. Budd shook his head and made an X with his forearms. “I can’t,” she thought he mouthed.

Emily looked around her room and, underneath the discarded three-ring binders of the previous school year, she found the dry erase board she used for upcoming assignments. She ran her hand over the board, erasing the final exam dates from May, then wrote simply WTF? on the board.

Lucas Budd apparently wasn’t up on the latest in online abbreviations, because he looked at her with an impatient curiosity. Emily erased the WTF? and replaced it with What do you want?

A look of passion and frustration passed over the face of her boyfriend’s father, and Emily was briefly worried again. Mr. Budd angrily pointed at his eye and mouthed the word back at her: “Eye.”

Okay, eye. Go on.

Mr. Budd shook his head and pointed at her, then pretended to write in the air.

“’I write to you?’ You want me to write something to you?”

Again, Mr. Budd shook his head. He pointed to his eye and then at the board, then drew an exaggerated “I” in the air.

Oh, right, duh. You want me to write this down. Emily erased the board with her palm and wrote the letter “I” at the top.

Lucas Budd nodded, then pointed at his leg.

“Leg? Legs?” Emily mouthed.

He shook his head, then jerked his knee up into the air.

“I…I…” Emily shrugged at him.

Mr. Budd, exasperated, motioned for her to come outside again, then sighed. He held his hands about a foot apart, as though he was holding something, then he began to repeatedly to bring it down towards his lap. Seeing the horrified expression on Emily’s face, he shook his head vehemently then did it again, this time bringing his knee up higher.

“Oh, you knee’d someone.” She wrote the word kneed beside the I on her board. “Was it that cop hanging out at your house?”

Emily looked up from the dry erase board just in time to see Lucas Budd, terrified of something just over her shoulder, drop down to the ground. Emily turned around, towards the front of the cottage. Her father’s head appeared in the window by the door, looking in with concern on his lean features. Seeing her awake, he opened the door. Emily only then realized it had been unlocked the entire time.

Her father was wearing his bicycling outfit, the spandex suit tight on his compact frame. Even at 71, Erling Hammarskjöld walked with the easy efficiency of a lifelong athlete. He looked her over curiously as he entered, his pale eyes shrewd in his lined face. His clip shoes tapped against the hardwood floor of the cabin.

“What are you doing awake, Baby Belle?” Even after decades in America, his voice retained a hint of a clipped Scandinavian accent. He sounded vaguely like an exceptionally good speech synthesizer. “You should be in bed for at least five more hours.”

“I couldn’t sleep. I guess I had a nightmare,” she said. Why are you protecting him?

“I thought I heard you call out. Are you okay?” Her father held her eyes for a second, then, without moving, he glanced around her bedroom quickly: under the edge of her bed, into her open closet, through the door to her bathroom.

“I’m fine. I just…couldn’t sleep.”

“Well, it must have been quite a dream, to keep you from sleeping.” Her father smiled at her, and walked over to the window that, just a few minutes before, had held Lucas Budd. He frowned and looked out at the courtyard, even glancing down at the ground as though he couldn’t quite put his finger on something. Emily thought that, in another life, he would have been a good detective, another billionaire crime-fighter in a spandex suit. “What are you writing?”

“Oh…I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I thought I’d make a shopping list for tomorrow with Mom.”

Erling Hammarskjöld turned back from the window and shook his head sadly at her. Emily froze for a second, and wondered again why she cared if Lucas Budd were caught sneaking around her house.

“You know better than that, Emily.” Her father leaned forward, and with a long elegant finger he traced the letter K, erasing it. “All that money spent on your education.”

Emily looked down at the dry erase board, which now read I need. “Oh, ha. I guess I’m still half-asleep.”

Erling clapped his hands together once. “Well, no sense wasting the day away. You’re awake, so why don’t you take a bike ride with me?”


“Yes. We’ll go down to the French Market and get your mother flowers. A surprise for her.”

“That sounds like fun. But I get flowers, too.”

Erling chuckled. “Wear something’s already hot today, very hot. And I’m not slowing down, just for you.”

A few minutes later, Emily was wearing lycra shorts and a light tank-top, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Alexander would have pretended like he’d never met her before if they passed on the street, but her father was only partially kidding about keeping up a fast pace.

Just before she left, she picked up her dry erase board and looked at it again. She frowned as she read the two short words over and over.

I need.

I need.

I need.

What did Lucas Budd need from her?

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